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Trump jurors hear from second accuser in civil rape trial

In other witness testimony, a woman noted that Trump was a long way away from the White House in 1996 when E. Jean Carroll said she had been raped.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Jessica Leeds puts the year as either 1979 or 1980. She had been traveling to New York for work when she got bumped up to first class. Testifying in federal court on Tuesday, she remembered being the only woman sitting in the section, and that she shook hands with her seat mate, Donald Trump, as he introduced himself.

The two chatted — about what Leeds no longer recalls — and then, once their in-flight meals were cleared away, Trump suddenly began to kiss and grope Leeds, she said, and tried to put his hand up her skirt. 

“He was trying to kiss me, he was trying to pull me toward him, he was grabbing my breasts,” Leeds said. “It was like he had 40 zillion hands. It was a tussling match.”  

Leeds spoke from the witness stand at the former president's ongoing civil rape case with another accuser, E. Jean Carroll, a writer who spent the previous several days describing an evening in 1996 that she says Trump raped her at the department store Bergdorf Goodman, after shoving her against the wall in a dressing room. 

Carroll filed the lawsuit under a newly enacted New York law aimed at giving survivors of sexual abuse a second chance for justice by opening a one-year window to file complaints that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations. Based on Trump’s denial of the allegation, Carroll's lawsuit also seeks damages for defamation. 

Leeds noted Tuesday that, on her flight with Trump over four decades ago, she was sitting exposed in the aisle seat of a commercial flight. Across the aisle, a man seemed to be watching as she struggled against Trump's advances.  

“His eyes were like saucers,” Leeds said of the fellow passenger. “I remember thinking, ‘Where is the stewardess? Why doesn’t somebody come and help me?’ And then I realized nobody was going to help me. I had to do it myself, and that’s when I got the strength to get up and get out.” 

The encounter lasted just seconds but “seemed like forever,” she said, before Leeds rose to her feet and found an empty seat in the coach section. Leeds, then 37 said she lingered behind once the plain landed to avoid running into Trump at the terminal. She didn’t report the assault: not to the airline, and not to her employer. 

It was a different time, as Leeds, now 81, explained. 

“Men basically could get away with a lot, and that’s sort of where I put it,” she testified. 

Even if she had spoken up, she wouldn’t have expected anything to come of it. 

“If I had gone in and complained about what happened, my feeling was that my boss would say to me, ‘Well, that’s really too bad. How about lunch?’ I didn’t think I’d get any sympathy,” Leeds said, then added, “I didn’t want any sympathy. I wanted this job.” 

The cultural context Leeds provided echoed Carroll’s testimony. Both women described fighting against Trump but said they didn’t call for help in the moment and didn't go to the police in the aftermath. 

"I am a member of the Silent Generation," Carroll told jurors this week. "Women like me were taught and trained to keep our chins up and to not complain."

For Carroll, the time to speak up came in 2017, when dozens of women came forward accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct escalating to rape. For Leeds, it was the year before, while Trump was running for president. 

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The notorious “Access Hollywood” tape was circulating: Trump had been caught on a hot mic in 2005 boasting about using his celebrity status to aggressively pursue women, and kissing them without hesitation “like a magnet.” 

Leeds became furious when, during an October 2016 presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, Trump dismissed his lewd comments as “locker room talk” and denied ever kissing women without consent. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” he told the debate host, CNN’s Anderson Cooper. 

“Even watching it today infuriates me,” Leeds said after a clip of the debate was played in court. “He was lying.” So the next day she wrote to The New York Times and took her story public. 

Reflecting on the alleged attack, Leeds said she didn’t invite any physical contact from the not-yet-famous man in the seat next to her. 

“I don’t know why he perceived that I was available. I personally thought that he was just bored,” Leeds said. “But the fact remains that he physically assaulted me.” 

While Leeds says she kept the assault to herself entirely, Carroll testified that she confided in two friends immediately afterward. One of them, fellow writer Lisa Birnbach, backed up Carroll’s story earlier in the day Tuesday. 

“Breathless, hyperventilating, emotional” — that's how Birnbach said Carroll sounded when she called her on her cellphone, minutes after leaving Bergdorf. “Her voice was doing all kinds of things,” Birnbach testified. 

Birnbach said she was making dinner for her young children when the call came.

“Even though I knew my children didn’t know the word, I ducked out of the room — my phone was wireless — and I said, I whispered, ‘E. Jean, he raped you. You should go to the police,’” Birnbach testified. 

Carroll refused, and turned down Birnbach’s offer to come over for dinner, saying she just wanted to go home. At Carroll’s request, the two didn’t broach the topic again, and Birnbach said she worked to put it out of her mind until Carroll revealed in 2019 that she planned to include the story in her book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.” 

By then, Trump was president, and Birnbach was not a fan. 

“In my entire life I’ve never felt the hatred that I feel toward this person,” Birnbach wrote in a Facebook post read aloud by Trump’s attorney Perry Brandt. 

Birnbach in the same post called Trump a “slimeball,” and she wasn’t shy on her podcast, which aired from 2018 to 2021, about voicing her feelings toward the ex-president. She compared him to a herpes infection, called him a narcissistic and malignant sociopath, and a Russian agent. 

While Trump’s team angles to use those words as proof of political motivation, Birnbach said that such politics were irrelevant in 1996. 

“My friend wasn’t raped by a president; she was assaulted by a guy. A real estate guy who liked women and harassed a lot of women,” Birnbach said.

Following Brandt’s objection, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed to strike the response in the record after the words “real estate guy.”

More testimony is expected for the next week. The former president has been a no-show throughout the proceedings, and his attorney attorney, Joseph Tacopina, confirmed at the end of the day on Tuesday that Trump will not be present for the remainder. 

“It’s his call,” Judge Kaplan replied. “I understand that, you understand that, he understands that, right?” 

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, Trials

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